23 April 2014

A rush of bilingual blood to the head

Coucou Madame,
I've been thinking.....(as Richard Prebble is reputed to have said) and here is the product of my reflections:

Inspired by a recent stuff article based on a Uni of Auckland Education lecturer, John McCaffery's research into bilingual education, through a case-study of Richmond Road School, I was reflecting on the feasibility/desirability of setting up similar bilingual units in other primary schools around the country. It would necessarily involve only small numbers of students but it might answer a need/ be an interesting enquiry project/ promote sustainable, effective language learning/ be a basis for research into the value of bi-lingualism in cognitive development.

Why would I like to be involved in this process?
  • It seems to me a worthwhile goal, relevant to my aim of encouraging students to share my passion for speaking other languages and experiencing other cultures.
  • It would be a parallel structure rather than something that competes with any existing structures and initiatives.
  • I feel I have a lot of expertise that would be valuable to such an initiative.
  • I have doubts, as does John McCaffery, that the current regime is the most effective way to learn languages.
  • Having taught primary students languages last year, I can see how rapidly they soak it up, even with relatively little time spent on it, and how enthusiastic and uninhibited they are about communicating.
  • The primary level is undoubtedly when students are most receptive to learning languages (other than pre-school)
  • The language required to teach other subjects in the Target Language is no doubt less complex at junior level than it would be at senior
  • At last one would be free of the constraints of having to groom prospective NCEA candidates.
  • Cohorts would be together all day, so it would be easier to be flexible about scheduling.
So, I've made a wee 'carte heuristique' with some preliminary musings which I submit for your input, in case you have a nano-second to think about it????
Am I being totally unrealistic to imagine that one might get something like this off the ground?
Even since I photographed this mind-map just now, I've added new things to it.  Such as:
  • should one target public or private education? 
  • Should it be restricted, as I think Richmond Road is, to families that have a TL speaking parent who can support their child's learning.? (which defeats the purpose of making it accessible to a wider public)
  • Could one conceivably think of offering parallel classes to parents of students in bi-lingual classes to help them support the learning?
  • Could one imagine incorporating virtual classes to make smaller units more viable and reduce costs?
Here are another couple of links to articles that have fueled my enthusiasm, in English and in French
What do you reckon? Am I being pie in the sky? It's a bit more challenging and interactive than sitting at my computer translating, although I'm still working on that idea too. I'm off to sit the C2 in AK on 3 May. Will I be 'à la hauteur'? It'll depend on the subject matter and my ability to process the info super quickly. Never my forte..... On verra.


  1. You ask me what I think and I think brilliant!
    I am going to answer with bullet points as my mind boggles! The only thing unrealistic I read in your post is “that one might get something like this off the ground” .
    It is the word “one”: because if there is someone with the purpose and the knowledge and the network to get this off the ground it is YOU.
    And thus you could get the process rolling!
    - is there demand for it? if yes, where? how will you know?
    - studying what has success and the only model in NZ: what do you know about the Richmond School “recipe”? can it be replicated? are they willing to share/open? what are their limitations? what can you offer?
    - make a preliminary plan and book an appointment at the French Embassy - there were talks with the previous ambassador of this wasn’t there? has it stalled? if so why?
    - rather than a parallel structure i can picture this as a “plug in” that is flexible and integrates in existing systems? maybe combining the richmond school recipe with a school that has a history of doing languages at primary and testing it there . That would be where I d start.
    - TL speaking parent is restrictive but is it an element to ensure buy in?
    - Love the idea of parents’ class! fabulous for engaging community. would be interesting to know what Richmond and other schools (not bilingual but with a strongish commitment to TL teaching) do and what works if anything
    - Virtual? Not to get started I dont think, too many hoops, but as an extension to your bilingual plug in yes!

  2. Merci pour tes précieuses pensées! You're always so encouraging. I've already had a couple of promising exchanges with John McCaffery who has offered to include in the mix Franck Ridon, President of Frenz, the organising body behind Richmond Road's bi-lingual unit. I'm sure his wisdom would be priceless. John also rather laments the requirement for a TL-speaking parent in order to gain admission to RR but he says there are successful bi-lingual units overseas where this is not the case. This is what interests me more, as otherwise it's too exclusive and not a helpful model for growing the bi-lingual movement in New Zealand. I can see it taking off in private prep schools but I'd really like to see it available in public schools. I'm sure the Embassy would be favourably disposed to the idea, as they're already very pro RR, but it remains to be seen what they could come up with in terms of financial assistance. I also need to think about my own remuneration, given my present status.
    On another theme, a new private student started with me last Monday and that reminded me of what I really love doing. He's the ideal candidate, doing a PhD in Music, and has been teaching himself for the last 4 years, so tuned in and ready to roll. It would be nice to have a few more like him. I do enjoy teaching adults who are motivated!


Let's go Back to the Drawing Board!